The BallenIsles Art Expo | 2016 is open today through Sunday, showcasing the paintings, sculpture, photographs, woodworking, mixed media, needlework, paper art and pottery of eighty artists who live in this community. Given the opportunity to select only two of the paintings I’ve done this past year, I chose to exhibit Dancing in the Dark and Let’s Get Out of Here. Attending the lavish opening last night with some art loving friends, as always, I enjoyed the great variety of work displayed. Impressive…
Oils are the most forgiving medium I know. About forty years ago, I started making art out of clay and learned that breakage and misfirings could destroy something that had taken weeks to make. Taking up stone carving twenty years later, I found that a misplaced chisel, when carving a groin, could leave your marble torso an amputee or turn your two entwined lovers into two separate figures, in that case a happy accident. Exploring painting once I learned to draw, I found that watercolor was the most exacting (every mark you make stays on that paper), and acrylics dried too fast for my taste—I need time and a margin of error.
Imagine my joy at discovering oil painting! I start most paintings with a grisaille, an underpainting drawn with thinned paint, the perfect time to make all of my important decisions: placement on the canvas, proportion, lights and darks, etc. Some days it comes easy, but I have been known to wipe out a day’s work, only to come back to my newly blank canvas the next time, because the painting depends on that drawing. Then the paint application begins. There, too, if you get something wrong, you can fix it—color, temperature, background, whatever. Even once you’ve called it done, a detail in a painting can come back to speak to you. I added reflected light from street lamps to my tango dancers in Dancing in the Dark, a few weeks after I had called it finished.
I started my smoke series with Up In Smoke, not intending a series but just enjoying the challenge of painting the background first, in an ombre effect, shading the color from deepest purple to paler violet and then adding the match and the smoke. There’s no underpainting for these—the smoke is painted free hand, with oil paints thinned with linseed oil for the transparency. I liked painting it so much, it led me to do three more, each time choosing a different source for the smoke and a different ombre background. It was only after I had finished Take a Deep Breath that I decided to hang them together, a series of four, but when I looked at them in relation to one another, I realized that the bright turquoise I had used in Pipe Dreams would not work in the group. While the charcoal gray lightens to the color of ashes and makes the pipe recede, it’s all about the smoke, as it should be.
Dancing in the Dark
I usually paint my tango dancers on a colored ground, my focus being the image, not the setting. But over the last couple of years, my friend, Jeff Fay, a wonderfully talented young artist who specializes in architectural paintings (jhutchinsonfay.com), did a few night paintings—a convenience store, a gas station, an ice cream stand—that blew me away. I loved the atmosphere that black background created and thought it would work in a tango painting, enhancing the mood and highlighting the intimacy. It took me some time before I got to paint this, but I knew before I started that I would call it Dancing in the Dark.